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Interview: EWU researchers study rhetoric around homelessness in Spokane, Portland

Savanna Rothe/SPR
Camp Hope, a homeless encampment which at one point grew to 600 residents, seen in 2022.

A recently published study by a team of gentrification and homelessness researchers at Eastern Washington University has gained the attention of many who work directly with those experiencing homelessness in Spokane.

The study, “(Com)passionate Revanchism and the Role of Private-Sector Coalitions in the Spatial Management of Houselessness” examines the rhetoric used by Spokane Mayor Nadine Woodward, as well as business coalition Hello For Good, which was created in the last few years in response to increasingly visible homelessness in the city’s core.

Spokane Public Radio’s Rebecca White spoke with the study’s lead author, Matt Anderson his research into the rhetoric Spokane leaders use when talking about homelessness.

Anderson said compassionate revanchism, a term used in academic circles to describe rhetoric that uses phrases like “taking back the city,” is increasingly evident in the city of Spokane. He says it can take the form of funding shelters, while arresting homeless people for sleeping on the sidewalk. He says public conversations around homelessness have also hyper focused on drug addiction and mental illness, instead of the root causes, such as the increasing gap between housing costs and wages.

The study, which compared Spokane's Hello for Good to Portland's Harbor of Hope, was published in July.

Rebecca White is a 2018 graduate of Edward R Murrow College of Communication at Washington State University. She's been a reporter at Spokane Public Radio since February 2021. She got her start interning at her hometown paper The Dayton Chronicle and previously covered county government at The Spokesman-Review.